So in the last week, we had relaunches of Feedster and allmusic.com, and both sites were straight out of the Nineties: “this site best viewed on…”, browser blockers, and general lack of standards awareness. Scott Johnson’s response in the case of Feedster is, in effect, “we don’t have the resources to support all browsers”.
Yes, you do. It actually costs less to support all browsers.
What costs more is obsessing over making a design “look the same in all browsers”, which is in any case impossible. Your site can’t possibly look the same on a cell phone as it does on my Cinema Display, and it’s not going to look the same in Mosaic 1.0 as it does in IE/Win. Remember Mosaic? It didn’t support tables. A table-driven layout will completely and totally shatter in Mosaic. I wonder if Feedster has a blocking message for Mosaic.
The point is that if you properly structure your content, then you can make it available to everyone. You can set things up so that in more current browsers, the site will look pretty. In older browsers, it won’t. If the user really wants to get your content but your styles confuse it, then the user can disable styles (all the older browsers, and many newer ones, let you do that via the preferences). If you identify a particularly problematic browser—whether it’s IE5/Mac or Netscape 4 or Opera 3.6 or whatever—then you can use JS to withhold the CSS from the browser. Users of those browsers get the content. You can throw in a message telling them why the site looks plain, if you like, but the important thing is that they get the content.
For a site like Feedster, there’s really no excuse. The main page is a search form that looks a whole lot like Google, except with more stuff on it. After that, you get a list of search results. The results will be just as useful with an unstyled presentation as with all the CSS in the world applied. So to say that it would cost $1,500 to support IE/Mac, or anything else, is misleading at best. It might cost $1,500 to figure out how to hack around a browser’s limitations in order to make the page “look the same”. It would have cost $750 less to not take half an hour to implement a browser blocker and set up the blocker page, and just let all browsers in. It would maybe have taken $275 worth of time to write a detector that withholds the style sheet from “unsupported” browsers, or else adds in a style sheet for the browsers you “support”.
As for allmusic.com, Tim Murtaugh created a more standards-compliant version of the main page in two hours. Of course, it may not have consistent layout in multiple browsers, but another six hours could probably fix that. I wish they would, because I use allmusic.com a lot in preparing for my radio show. (And did I mention that the station has a new design for its site? I had nothing to do with it.) I won’t stop using it, of course, because they have good biographical information. but I wish they’d done better. It would have been little enough effort to do so.